Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The story so far....


How do you like it so far? Would you like to read more? Would you like to know what happens next?

I want to turn this blog into a book - but I can't do it without your help. As long as enough people are interested, I will have a better chance of getting a publisher on board. 

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Thank you!

Emma Blake
June 2014 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Russians

Russian masterpiece, "Stone Flower". Oil-based, exotic, seductive, irresistible - and presented in an "egg" in an echo of Fabergé. Circa 1984.

Dear Mr Ivanov,
            It must be evident that the time could not be more propitious than now, to introduce Soviet perfumery to the West.
            As you are aware, I have been most anxious to do this and have been working at it for some 4 years.
            I had expected to hear further from you after your visit last summer, concerning any further developments in this direction.
            My efforts have not ceased – through me, many people have been introduced to Soviet scent, and all have been enthusiastic.
            Before Mrs Thatcher left for the USSR, I advised her to bring back some Russian perfume as through mutual friends, I know she adores scent.
            Since our meeting, I have discussed possible methods of launching the scent in the West with representatives from the media, and they agree with that with a limited budget, my idea of a party is the best solution.
            Names for the guest-list have been suggested and I can pass this on to you. The names must cover magazine Beauty Editors and journalists, shop buyers, people from the entertainment industry: actors, singers, dancers. Certain politicians, certain socialites – the sort of media personality that ensures press-coverage.
            The venue should be the Soviet Embassy. As I explained, there is a certain attraction attached to an invitation to the Embassy that would prove irresistible. The fact that the Embassy is so exclusive and so glamorous – chandeliers, mirrors, champagne or vodka and caviar – is all that is necessary.
            The scent to be displayed on mirrored stands, under-lit with samples on silver trays. The room to be sprayed beforehand with Red Moscow – that being the most “Russian” scent in Western terms.
            A Heaven-sent opportunity to give out samples of Russian scent at the Barbican exhibition has been missed which is a shame.
            If you were to set things in motion now you could be ready in October which would coincide with the exhibition the Fragrance Foundation is holding at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.*

* the dominant flower to be red carnations – being the national flower. Examples of ... enamel, jewellery (amber etc), and flowered scarves used as dressing to set the bottles off.


It would be too expensive to use national magazines to advertise or enclose a “scratch and sniff” sample – but local London magazines, which are delivered free to the most exclusive London addresses, such as “Portrait” and “The Magazine” might be considered.
            As I explained to you, Boots (The Chemist) is the most important and influential chain of outlets in the world – they will not take anything that has not been heavily advertised and publicised – but exclusive, small outlets in major shops, e.g., Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, can be arranged.
            The Spanish firm, Myrurgia, does this, and a French firm called Jean Laporte has a small section in Harrods.
            Floris, one of the oldest firms, does very well with very little advertising, and Crabtree & Evelyn also does excellent business with very little advertising. However, they do have a small shop – and that is something you could consider. You already have two Russian Shops already available where you could sell perfume – personally, I would have preferred something smaller, specialising in perfume, jewellery and scarves – and nothing else.
            From your catalogues, I have identified which products look the most likely sellers, and can tell you when I see you again.
            *Apropos – I have been contacted by the Metropolitan Museum in this connection for my assistance, and have taken the opportunity to advise them most seriously to include a section on Soviet scent. If they take my suggestion, I hope you will prove willing to cooperate in supplying them with appropriate exhibits.
            For myself and my work, I need more examples of Soviet scent, and would be grateful if you could arrange to supply me with the following:

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I have spent a great deal of money out of my own pocket on procuring examples and have given a great many away in order to generate enthusiasm for Soviet scent. I have been happy to do this in the interests of the Art of Perfumery – but I feel I must ask for some assistance in obtaining the further examples I feel are necessary. I hope you can assist in this matter.

Draft of a letter from Sally Blake to Mr Ivan Ivanov, Soviet Embassy, London.

The unabashed "Kremlin" in presentation box. Something James Bond might bring home as a present for M - should he make it back to London in one piece...


An innocuous name, which one might reasonably assume represented, if not the dawn, at least something along similar lines.

It does not, however, represent any such thing; it is the name of a battleship. Not just any old battleship either, but the battleship which fired the signal for the storming of the Winter Palace in 1917.

Held in deep regard and affection, the battleship Aurora is now a museum and lies harboured in perpetuity on the Petrograd side of Leningrad Harbour.

Not only is the perfume named after the battleship, it is presented in the shape of a battleship, and a battleship figures further on the box.

Indeed, it was the battleship on the box which suggested that there might be more to this than met the eye, for while we might be fairly accustomed to seeing every sort of ship from galleons, to luxury liners to canoes on perfume boxes, a battleship was something else.

To present a perfume named after a battleship, in the shape of a battleship, would challenge the artistic capabilities of the most gifted of designers; unquestionably, their first thought would be that aesthetically, it could not be done. Less talented designers might produce something in plastic, probably blue, and undoubtedly suggest sending it out as [kids’] bubblebath instead of a ladies’ perfume.

What the Russians have done is to create not one, but three bottles, in two different shapes, dove-tailing geometrically to form the whole; each bottle surmounted by a tall glass stopper forming the three funnels, and the whole presented in cut-glass.

It is quite simply a masterpiece of commemorative art, which should by rights, stand in a Design Museum, for surely, nothing can more truly represent the artistry and ingenuity of the Russian perfume flacon designer than Aurora.

Sally Blake
...and the one that started it all: "Red Moscow". Circa 1984

Mr Ivanov smoked incessantly. Thickly packed, strong smelling Russian cigarettes. They sat in what we called the Front Room, which was in fact, one of two rather large drawing rooms leading off the entrance hall. The second, which housed the piano, the cat-shredded Chesterfield, the vast mirrored and marbled sideboard, and my mother’s best bottles, was known as the Dining Room. Although it had seen quite a few parties in my Father’s day (once, my mother had turfed out actors Sharon Maughan and Trevor Eve for rather over-enthusiastic canoodling in case my brother or I had walked in), never to my knowledge, had anyone ever sat down to a meal in there.

I was summoned to meet him. My mother wanted me to have a big piece of this project. She was the brains, but I would be the manager. With brimming pride, my mother began to list my achievements, ending up with the fact I could hold my own in Chinese.

“Cantonese, Mummy.” I pointed out shyly. I had never seen a real Russian before. I badly wanted to stare.

“Ah. Hong Kong.” Said Mr Ivanov, lighting another cigarette. “You play the piano, I think.” He concluded.

“Well, a bit...” I shifted uncomfortably, remembering Miss Asher who had rapped my knuckles for sight-reading a piece I should have learned and telling my mother she was not interested in teaching lazy little girls.

“It is why you can hear and reproduce the tones of the language.” Mr Ivanov smiled benignly.

I looked at this handsome man in his lovely suit, I watched his quiet ways, and I thought: KGB, Gorky Park, 1917, the Firebird, Anastasia, Rasputin, vodka, vast freezing plains, datchas, wolves, Balalaikas, Dr Zhivago. I could have fainted on the spot.

Russia, so fatally, frighteningly huge, and mysterious, and glamorous. At the time at least, their perfumes were equally impressive.
They were talking about how to approach importing these beautiful scents into the UK. A fabulous Russian concession in either Selfridges or Harrods, my mother handling the whole thing. A job for me. She produced a business and marketing plan.

She’d discovered Russian perfumes whilst walking up Holborn in London. There was a “Russian Shop” there. Full of scarves and amber beads and travel brochures and small bottles of scent. Glorious, oil-based scent in bottles that ranged from the utilitarian to the fantastical. The first she tried was “Red Moscow”. A heady, powdery scent with a plastic screw top in box of red and orange redolent of Schiaparelli. She bought a bottle. Then she bought another, "Stone Flower", then another "Kremlin", then more and more. These were proper scents, made the old way, a way that was, even then, already dying out. The rose in these was true Bulgarian rose, the real deal, licquor from the still. I wore Red Moscow for some time in 1984 and thought myself pretty damned rad.

Mr Ivanov was enthusiastic. However, there were one or two obstacles. Not least, money. The initial outlay would have to come from us. The Embassy were unable to assist. They would be happy to host the launch of course. My mother would get a return on her investment in due course... Depending on the success of the project, etc etc etc.

We had nothing but our dreams and our vision.

So that was that.

Emma Blake
June 2014

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Patou and Chanel... Chanel and Patou

Designer Perfumers
Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel - 1962

When it came to the scents to go with the clothes, it has to be said that Paul Poiret, the most legendary designer of them all, actually led the way. He dispensed with the corset, and introduced a fluid line. It was Poiret too [with his “Parfums de Rosine” brand], who first introduced perfume to a couture house, causing an almighty storm that took years to subside.

“What does a dress designer know about perfume?!” Thundered the purists. “Would one expect a perfumer to design dresses?”

And yet? Who better? Who would know women better than one who dresses them? No more or less than designing the correct scarf to go with an outfit, the correct scent is as important an accessory as the right shoes or bag.

Others quickly followed suit...

Over half a century has passed since Jean Patou and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel ruled the fashionable world in Paris; dictated style, vied for clients and fired salvoes at each other from their scented salons.

So alike, so different. Brother and sister under the skin, dedicated and passionate rivals with so much in common. The elegant Patou, “that Hercules!” as Elsa Maxwell called him; indefatigable ladies’ man, habitué of the race-tracks and gaming tables, son of a prosperous tanner from Normandy; and Coco Chanel, illegitimate child of peasant stock from Saumur.
Jean Patou - at work...

Both peaked at about the same time, both specialised in “the nothing look”; Chanel with her vests and cardigans, and Patou with his sportswear. Chanel’s “little vest” had actually been inspired by a buttoned fine wool undergarment “borrowed” from a lover. The lover, being English, bought his vests from an exclusive haberdasher in Bond Street, and these vests were made in Nottingham, woven from silk and wool that crunched to nothing in the hand, and clung to the body. Very sexy. Very suggestive.

Chanel took one of these vests, dyed it, added a collar, put it with a pleated skirt, and launched the look that screams “understated class” to this day.

While Coco perfected her vests, Patou concentrated on sport and dressing the modern sportswoman, the greatest coup at the time being his contract to dress Suzanne Lenglen – the French tennis goddess of the day. Spectacularly ugly, even her most fervent admirers could never claim her to be a beauty, but Patou made her look good.

This was the age of “le sport”, that frenetic time between the wars, when clothes that could “move” were needed for leisured people who never kept still.

If they weren’t golfing, sailing, bathing, motoring or playing tennis, they were doing the “Black Bottom”, “Shimmy”, “Bunny-Hug” or the “Charleston”.

Clothes were needed that could keep pace with all this activity, and both Chanel and Patou vied constantly with each other to provide them.

Whilst Patou publicly sneered at dress designers who designed for the theatre (as Chanel did), Chanel swiped back with her emphatic statement that “no man can design clothes for women: clothes must be logical. No man is logical, so how can they design women’s clothes?”

However, in the area of “les riens”, as both described accessories – including perfume – Chanel pipped Patou, not just to the post, but to the Winner’s Enclosure.

Thanks to her friend Misia Sert (known so well, she was known only as “Misia”) who gave her the idea, and to Ernest Beaux who mixed the potions she chose to bear her name, she brought out No5, Gardenia, Bois des Iles, Cuir de Russie, and No22 in rapid succession.

Patou, having launched several fragrances without particularly notable impact, eventually hit the jackpot with JOY, five years after the birth of Chanel’s No5, in 1926.
Patou's famous "Joy" - formerly "the costliest perfume in the world"

Prior to this, however, he had hit upon the extraordinarily wonderful and novel idea of setting up a bar in his salons, where bored men waiting for their wives and mistresses to complete a fitting, could have a drink and choose a scent from the selection displayed at the bar.

Presented in classic Art Deco crystal bottles with pineapple shaped stoppers (designed by Louis Suë), one could choose from Amour-Amour (for blondes), Que Sais-je? (for brunettes), and Adieu Sagesse! (for redheads).[i]

Le Sien followed, the first “unisex” perfume; fresh, outdoors, and sporty. JOY then followed in 1928, along with the Cocktail selection. This revolutionary range consisted of 3 basic scents: Cocktail Dry, Cocktail Sweet, and Cocktail Bittersweet – for the 4th, you had the opportunity to create the 4th yourself by mixing your own.

By 1971, No5 had grossed $15million, and despite its prohibitive price tag, Patou’s JOY wasn’t far behind. By then, however, Charlie had been born in the pungent wake of Youth Dew, and it seemed that charming world of elegance, subtlety and sophistication, perched on a bar stool in a Paris salon choosing scents while “Madame” got her outfit just right, might well be gone for good.

Indeed, for a time, it seemed that France was content to stand aside with traditional insouciance and watch as the perfume industry across the Atlantic swamped the globe with brassy pongs and sledgehammer marketing. By the mid-80’s, the world was suffocating in a fog of overpowering potions more suited to the Casbah or harem, because, put simply, this was where the money was coming from and the market the industry was most eager to please.

Finally, Patou, as if waking from a long sleep, eased out of their indolence and decided to do something about it.

In time for Christmas 1983, they relaunched the glorious Normandie, smelling of roses and carnations, moss, jasmine, and expensive leather suitcases – the sort of suitcases that needed porters to carry them onto luxury liners, long, long ago, in that period of gaiety between the two World Wars. This was the sort of scent that took an evening to develop from the first cocktail to that final goodnight under the trans-Atlantic stars. And if the evening lasted longer... so did the scent.

At the same time, Chanel, as if waking from the same long sleep, brought back Cuir de Russie (favoured of Bianca Jagger), Bois des Isles, Gardenia (although a very disappointing new formula), and No22.
Bianca's favourite: "Cuir de Russie" (Russian Leather)
Almost in response, having originally thought only to reissue three of their most famous past glories (Chaldée, Vacances, and Cocktail) Patou damned the torpedoes entirely in a spectacular splash at the tail end of 1984, bringing out no less than 12 of their early designer scents in glorious Suë designed bottles, giving everyone the chance to compare present day offerings with those available in the past.
The magnificent and mouth-watering Patou Collection of Classic Scents. For one brief shining moment in the mid 1980s, you could actually buy all of these...alas, no more.

Such comparison could well have proved odious, which might well be just what the ever elegant house of Patou had in mind. For whereas now, confusion abounds and to distinguish one “new” creation from another is practically impossible as they hurtle off production lines in chemical factories quicker than coconuts at a fair-ground shy, to bombard a punch-drunk public with yet more combinations of tuberose, gardenia and jasmine, developed by chemists in pharmaceutical companies and hawked around to be sold with minor adjustments of the same formula to the various perfume houses, Patou’s were all individual, each one blazingly different to the other.

Amour-Amour, Que Sais-je? and Adieu Sagesse represent the three stages of a love affair. Warm, hesitant, spicy Chaldée, the Ambre Solaire of its day, brings back memories of holidays in the South of France, and warm, relaxed lazy laughter.

Moment Suprême is the sophistication of the sort of woman who could afford to be dressed by Jean Patou, and who possessed the supreme self-assurance to place her faith in “simple” lavender.

Normandie evokes the leisured life enjoyed by passengers on one of the most luxurious and legendary ocean liners of all time. With a hint of the sort of leather that went to make very expensive luggage before some tram-lined bore decided that “leather” based scents were too masculine and only men should wear them, in a spectacular marketing move, every lady who travelled First Class on the Normandie’s maiden voyage, found a bottle of Normandie at her place at dinner.
Patou's "Normandie" - created for the luxury liner of the same name

The hint of cinnamon in Divine Folie and the dry buzz given by Cocktail recall “Les Années Folles”, the mad-cap years between the wars, known as “The Long Party”.

Colony brought a touch of citrus from distant islands across the sea, Vacances, the light but heady scent of lilacs drifting from a summer garden (and created to commemorate France’s first Public Holiday – Patou was not so distanced by the rich that he forgot the poor entirely).

L’Heure Attendue, a sigh of relief and a cry for joy to greet the end of the war, 6 years austerity and enemy occupation. “Awaited hour” – warm, rich, luxurious; to show both France and Jean Patou were finally back in business.

Câline, a gesture to the young, probably the only truly and consciously “youthful” fragrance Patou ever made – to reflect the spirit of the “swinging 60’s”.

12 fragrances, all totally different, each with an individual statement to make. For one brief moment in the mid-80’s, we did not have to imagine what such legendary long-gone scents were like, we could try them for ourselves.

Typically, Parfums Jean Patou did not play safe with a “dummy run” of just one or two to test the temperature of the market, they risked the lot in one throw of the dice on the table.[ii] Rather like their founder often did on the tables at Monte... One can almost see M. Patou’s smile of approval.

Sadly however, this time the gamble did not pay off, for Dior’s Poison was waiting in the wings. The test-tube fragrance – fathered by a laboratory robot, placed in the surrogate womb of consumer research – thrusting forth like the Alien to pervade continent after continent.

It seems we were not ready for a return to elegance. We had in fact, even farther to fall.  It seems the public no longer exists, subtle enough, varied enough, sophisticated enough, or civilised enough to appreciate such gestures. We have become too bland, too safe, too homogenised and too colourless to recognise a life-line when we see one thrown into the insipid sea in which we have been drowning for so long. In which case, we probably deserve to drown.

But to the inveterate and impossibly glamorous gambler Jean Patou, just for the few customers who fell on these reissued scents and bought as many as they could afford, this brief, glorious, sadly limited run would undoubtedly have been considered more than worth the risk.

“Ah well...” He would no doubt smile as he did when tearing up a betting slip at the track: “there goes another dress...!”

Sally Blake
Date unknown

[i] A contemporary advertisement has the scents definitely aimed at these groups as stated, although it is often thought that Amour-Amour was intended for brunettes and Que Sais-je? for blondes.
[ii]  [As my mother predicted, bottles from this limited mid-80’s run are now collectors’ items. I treasure my bottle of Vacances, bought at Fortnum and Mason, which came with a fabulous 1930’s inspired silk handkerchief. EWB]

Notes on Houbigant - Sally Blake

"Fougère Royale" - a royal fern....created 1885

The Perfumes

Fougère Royale – 1885
Lavender/”new mown hay” – masculine
Houbigant created Fougère Royale in the year Victor Hugo died, D. H. Lawrence was born and the first sky-scraper was erected in Chicago.

Émile Zola published “Germinal” and de Maupassant “Bel Ami”. Vincent Van Gogh painted “The Potato Eaters” and “The Weaver”, and Cézanne “The Card Players”.

In Germany, Nietzsche was giving us “Also Spracht Zarethustra”. It was the year of the Conference of Berline, and the year after Modigliani was born. It was also the year before the death of Franz Liszt. Karl Marx had been dead for two years, so had Manet, Wagner and Turgenev. Kafka was two years old, so was Utrillo: [in the wake of Elizabeth Siddal Rosetti who had set the precedent] his mother, Suzanne Valadon was posing for painters for a few francs an hour and dabbling with occasional canvas of her own, while Grandmother was keeping the baby quiet by giving him a taste for cognac.

The twenty-one year old Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec came into sufficient money to set up a studio in Montmartre, and started to frequent the circus and the music-hall. Virginia Woolf, as yet unaware of her own privilege, was bowling her hoop in a Londn park, James Joyce was making sand-castles: a Jesuit education yet to come.

Chantilly - 1941
Powdery floral
A 1950s advertisement for "Chantilly"

The nose behind this fragrance was Paul Parquet. Top notes neroli, bergamot and lemon; middle notes are spices, carnation, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose and orange blossom; base notes are leather, tonka bean, musk, benzoin, oakmoss, vanilla and sandalwood.


Sally Blakeoubi
Date Unknown